What does a good violin sound like under the ear??

August 12, 2016 at 04:01 PM · I'm going to get a new violin today and I've read that a good violin will sound like its been stuffed with cotton under the ear, and yet be loud and beautiful further away. Is this true? What does a good violin sound like under the ear? By good, I mean like a strad. For anyone who's tried a strad, what does it sound like under the ear? Quiet? Muffled? Or is it loud and bright under the ear? In old discussions, people have said that if you play an instrument and it sounds like its stuffed with cotton(soft, quiet?) It will be loud and pleasant to listeners who are further away. Especially in concert halls...

Can anyone inform me on this? What sound should I look for under the ear today?

Thanks.

Replies (67)

August 12, 2016 at 04:06 PM · It should sound like Joshua Bell's violin, LOL,

August 12, 2016 at 05:16 PM · I'd be worried if a violin of mine sounded muffled. Quietness may not be such a concern, for a quiet instrument can still have an attractive tone - and that is something that grabs the listener's attention. A skilled player can still get such a quiet instrument to project. Playing a "muffled" violin to my mind would be like trying to drive a car with the hand-brake on.

I've never played a Strad or anything of that calibre, but both my violins have a reasonably projective tone, even if one is quieter than the other. With both, I prefer to practice with cotton wool in my left ear to reduce bow and string noise which makes them sound louder to me than they really are, but this noise can't be heard more than a few feet away.

August 12, 2016 at 05:25 PM · I'm not sure where you read that, David, but it's not true.

When you have a violin out on trial, you should try to play it, and have other people play it, in every circumstance where you think you'll be using it. If you intend to be playing in any venue that seats more than about 200 people, i.e., something that qualifies more as a "hall" than an "auditorium", it's very important to hear what the violin sounds like at the back of the hall.

This is also why you'll want your teacher's help in evaluating instruments. Note that just because *someone* can project to the back of a hall on a violin doesn't mean that *you* can. And depending on your tone production (which, note, is unlikely be fully developed at your stage of playing), where in the hall you sound best and whether or not you can punch through competition from a piano or quartet or orchestra, will vary.

Some instruments sound very different under the ear than they do to a listener, but not all do. Great instruments with a lot of richness and projection can sometimes sound a bit harsh under the ear. They are not necessarily loud under the ear, and instruments that are loud 10 feet away are not necessarily loud at the back of the hall.

You're not going to get an instrument in your sub-$5k range that sounds like a Strad, at least not to anyone knowledgeable and with a decent ear. (Usual caveat about a good Strad applies here, and yes, there are fabulous contemporary instruments that might play as well as some of the very best antique instruments, but you're not going to be finding any of those instruments in your price range.) It's basically not even worth thinking about.

What characterizes the very best instruments is an extraordinary responsiveness to nuance. You can produce very fine shadings of color if you have sufficiently precise and intuitive technique. This is coupled to complexity, richness, resonance, and projection.

A Strad sound is, to me, almost bell-like in its clarity and resonance. You can feel a subtle pressure against your ears if you're close to it, very similar to the kind of subtle pressure that you feel when you listen to noise-cancelling headphones. My guess is that those are frequencies that you're basically feeling rather than hearing, part of the broad overtone spectrum that's being produced.

As a student, you don't really have a significant need for projection. What you need is an instrument that will help you develop your concept of sound, and that responds well so that you develop correct technique. You should also like the sound under the ear, and it should feel physically comfortable, so you feel motivated to practice. Your teacher is the person best-equipped to help you search for this violin, because you want a violin that suits the player that you will become, not the player that you are today.

August 12, 2016 at 05:34 PM · Good post

I should point out that IMHO its easier to find really quality tone for the price in a more moderate volume instrument, to get top quality tone and soloist volume and great projection, that tends to get quite expensive.

August 12, 2016 at 06:16 PM · I think Lydia covered it very thoroughly. I've always experienced good violins to sound a little harsher under the ear than they do from even 10 feet away.

August 12, 2016 at 06:30 PM · I have experienced that phenomenon - where a brighter, fuller, more resonant violin sounds muffled under the ear. In all honesty, that has been my primary experience. Even with the high quality bright violins I've tried, they seem to all have a bit of that "cotton-stuffed" sound. But even from five or ten feet away, that sound disappears, leaving clear resonance.

The violin I play on is quite nice, but very dark; it doesn't project extremely well. The timbre is much more closed sounding from out in the hall. However, it sounds open and brighter under my ear when I practice. I wonder if anyone else has experienced this.

But any good violin will have certain hallmarks: nice tone, relative evenness across the registers, a balance where the low end of the instrument still has 'oomph' but the high end doesn't scream, etc.

August 12, 2016 at 06:37 PM · When you wrote, "I'm going to get a new violin today," I hope you meant that you are going to start looking for a new violin today...getting a new violin is never a one-day job.

Because there are so many violins available in your price range, you should plan on trying as many as possible, and having your teacher also try them so you can hear how the instrument sounds from a distance. If you are seriously interested in a particular instrument after you have tried a couple dozen, any seller should permit you to take one home to evaluate it for a week or so at no charge. You will learn a lot in your search, for there is a great deal to know...and the search is invaluable in teaching you.

August 12, 2016 at 07:31 PM · Erin, yeah that's what I meant. I'm going to have four violins for trial for a week.

August 12, 2016 at 07:35 PM · Are they all Chinese???

August 12, 2016 at 07:48 PM · I was going to ask if they are all Don's? I like Don Leister's instruments, but they may or may not work for you. Do not limit yourself. Kapellers also has some fine instruments if you want to stay local. I had to go a bit further afield, getting one from Bropst in Alexandria, and one from Bill Weaver in Bethesda. PM me if you want details on my experiences shopping locally.

Your teacher should play a role in choosing your next violin. Based on what you have told me, she will have a good idea of what you need right now to develop your skills. Have fun, and don't make your decision too hastily. If you trial these four instruments and one doesn't suit 100%, don't settle. With so many violins in the world, one will feel just right eventually. You just have to find it.

August 12, 2016 at 08:31 PM · David, glad to hear you're not going on a one-day shopping spree :)

I agree that you should not be in a hurry-- the best advice I got when shopping was, Don't be afraid to walk away if the instrument and/or price are not right for you. Happy trials to you!

August 12, 2016 at 10:13 PM · I also think four violins is too many to trial at once. Eliminate things down in the shop to one or two (and it may be zero). You may decide you like neither after a week, in which case you're back to square one. If you like one, ask to extend the trial, and then compare it against the best violin in your price range that another shop has to offer. If the next shop doesn't have an instrument you like better, don't even bother taking it on trial. You're probably going to eliminate most instruments at the trying-in-the-shop stage, and comparing a pair of instruments is far easier than trying to decide between four.

Given the sheer number of instruments in this price range, I agree that you should try a few dozen before you choose.

August 12, 2016 at 10:22 PM · Go Lydia! Excellent post! :)

Good luck on your search, David! Keep us posted!

August 12, 2016 at 11:21 PM · Lydia, I went to two different shops and got two violins each for trial. Ive had one batch for a week, but I like my rental better. I've got two $6500 american handmade violins today, and the luthier said that he could make it work. Anyway, I like those two better than my rental, but there's one problem... That will come in a post

August 12, 2016 at 11:27 PM · You might find it better just to consolidate all of your questions under one post, David.

August 13, 2016 at 12:12 AM · here we go again:

https://www.zaretandsonsviolins.com/violins/choosing-a-violin

https://www.zaretandsonsviolins.com/how-to-judge-if-a-violin-has-a-good-tone

August 13, 2016 at 01:20 AM ·

Rocky, do you thing that's a good source of advice?

I can't complain about the advice too much though, since some of it seems to be plagiarized from my web site. LOL

August 13, 2016 at 02:15 AM · David Burgess,

It is in public domain and I can not validate the real source of information. Please post the link from your own web-page.

Regarding the content, it narrows down the focus of attention to relatively small number of variables. One of basic problems in violin selection is that people do not know the vocabulary of violin sound properties. Add English, and there is no end to confusion.

Rocky

August 13, 2016 at 02:24 AM · I find the emphasis on raw decibels in the Zaret's article to be both perplexing and wrong. Sheer decibels don't equate to projection or the ability to be heard over other instruments. Moreover, most players don't actually need that much volume and/or projection. It's probably one of the least important things in picking out an instrument for a student who isn't intending to play professionally.

August 13, 2016 at 02:33 AM · Its just a marketing scam to get you to pay for their instrument mutilating Zaret bass bar!!

August 13, 2016 at 11:56 AM · Over the years I've tried about 8-10 Strads, 3 del Gesus, some Amaits, Guadagninis, Vuilliuames, etc. etc. as well as lots of fine moderns. I've compared violins in spaces ranging from living rooms to Carnegie Hall (twice).

Violins - including Strads - are all different from one another. There is generalized conventional wisdom that Strads are like this, del Gesus are like that, but while there are family resemblances, there are a lot of individual differences, too. James Ehnes said that with a del Gesu, what you hear is what you get, whereas a Strad tends to play the room or hall you're in and expand into it.

This leads to the phenomenon that many players have experienced, that some fiddles sound strong under the ear but don't project very well and others are the opposite. Also some are both and some are neither. I've also had the experience of comparing 2 violins a capela, where violin A projected more than violin B. But playing them both in orchestra, I heard myself better with violin B.

With years of experience I think I often have a sense of a violin's projection. One thing I sometimes do is to put the violin down at chest level and play what I can as best I can. This may not seem like much but under the ear, the violin is about 2 inches away; at chest level, it's about 2 feet from our ears, and more evenly spaced from both our ears, and already there is some difference. Particularly when comparing strong notes on the E strings of 2 fiddles, I'll sometimes find that violin A is much stronger under the ear but at chest level, violin B is catching up. However, to be sure about projection, there no substitute for playing while another person whose ears you trust listens at a distance. There is also more than one kind of projection. At some distance, one violin may seem to hit you right in your face; another may seem to have a 'surround sound' effect.

So now comes the question of WHY a violin would not sound strong under the ear and yet project well. I don't know, but I have a couple of theories: I think that some violins tend to spin out their sound more quickly than others. Maybe this quick send out relates to projection. I also think that while there is some correlation between plain old loudness and projection, I think that fine quality itself may project on a more subtle level - a complex wrap of overtones that may not boom under the ear but may reach the listener at a distance.

One thing though. A good violin should sound good under the ear. It should certainly NOT sound like it is stuffed with cotton! Even a full-time soloist always has the violin under the ear, whether practicing or performing in a hall. If it doesn't give you pleasure, what's the point?

August 13, 2016 at 12:41 PM · Good post, Raphael!!

August 13, 2016 at 02:04 PM · Keep in mind, too, that the strings you use can make a difference. The basic sound properties -- dark, bright, warm, loud, projecting -- are already in the instrument and won’t change greatly; but different string combos can shade the sound in one direction or the other.

The last time I looked for new instruments was summer 2005. After a home tryout of two fiddles for a week, then two others for another week, I selected two of the four. I was glad I’d given each one a long tryout. I remain very pleased with both selections.

I now practice and play on three fiddles -- these two plus the third 4/4-size instrument I’d acquired earlier as a student -- dividing my time about equally each day among the three. They all sound good to me under the ear; but I don’t take the brunt of the sound, because I use foam earplugs -- dB reduction about 32 -- whenever I practice and play. So they sound to me more like they sound to an audience.

August 13, 2016 at 02:41 PM · That is a interesting post Raphael on your experience with great Italian violins.

August 13, 2016 at 04:22 PM · Thanks to Lyndon and Jeff. Doing a little review in my library I was reminded that apparently overtones do play a major role in this issue of projection. I'm hardly an expert at all on this subject - but for anyone following this discussion who may not happen to know anything about overtones, I'll temporarily play the role of the one-eyed leading the blind until someone more knowledgeable weighs in.

To me, overtones are the DNA of musical sound. When we think we are hearing one note, we are actually getting a a mix of pitches. We can hear this most obviously if we go to a grand piano and play the lowest note - "A". The other pitches are almost more prominent than the fundamental A, itself! This is much less obviously heard elsewhere but it's there. Overtones account for what makes say, a violin, piano, flute and trumpet paying the same say 440 A, sound so different from one another. Overtones also account on a more subtle level for what makes one violin sound different from another. The exact overtone mix for each note of each instrument seems to be almost as unique as a fingerprint.

It seems that with some violins that seem strong under the ear, a lot of that sound gets absorbed by both the air and the walls of a hall. These less than useful sounds are called dross. Some violins seem to emphasize more of the lower overtones of the spectrum and others, the higher ones.

My question is what aspects of violin making tend to support both fine quality AND projection? I suspect that a number of factors go into this, including materials, basic form, arching, plate tuning, set-up, etc.

August 13, 2016 at 04:42 PM · Raphael, this is what I think I know about overtones;

The proportions of the volumes of the different overtones and the fundamental are what gives each individual violin is own character or distinctive quality of sound, some very old antiques are very rich in overtones which give them there own unique tonal character, some modern violin have less overtone output and have a plainer purer, not so rich tone, some people prefer this others not. Overtones are another name for harmonics, common harmonics are an octave above fundamental, a fifth above fundamental, and octave and a fifth above, two octaves above etc etc. A bright sounding violin often means an emphasis of high harmonics or overtones.

August 13, 2016 at 05:13 PM · Noob here, but I think that it wouldn't and couldn't truely. (Somebody please feel me in and correct me fast)

I'm thinking of how Sound doesn't function in a vacuum; everything is just simpathetic vibrations. In order to understand what any instrument is resonating to, you have to be at the place of reverberation.

Like, how many horns are tuned in EB or Bb as there Concert C, that 's literally what there metals are openly responding to, ie: go tap a bell or a metal chair leg or something and it'll tell you all about it's EB, Bb, Ab, and sometimes C or F warm overtones, sort of conical vs cylindrical too for any brass players.

Now most solid wood tones are going to be

resonating off of a D and it's overtones.

Now flick your ear cartilage! Should be somewhere close to a tri-tone away to what your viol is resonating when you tap it. I think our gut, our feels are going to be a better measure for sound quality, and that is better expressed in the space around us.

Maybe instead of looking at What an instrument is saying, we look and HOW it says it; how it expresses itself. Horns are brash and 'in your face' type of thoughts, while viols are lyrical and encompassing.

I hope I taught everyone how to throw there voices, so thanks for reading my rambling.

August 13, 2016 at 05:34 PM · My experience with great violins (from the Cremonese to modern makers) is similar to that of Raphael's (great post Raphael!). What I find under the ear in a great instrument is that it has resonance and focus. I have yet to hear an instrument that sounds bad under the ear that sounds good in a hall. There are loud instruments that don't project, but that is because they don't have resonance.

A big factor though, is response. In my experience for examples Strads and Del Gésus (at least the ones I played on) don't have the same response and need to be played differently.

So, when trying out an instrument, assuming it is not improperly set up (wrong strings, in need of a soundpost adjustment, etc.), you have to play it the way that it needs to be played. The better the instrument, the better it has to be played.

Hope this helps...

Cheers!

August 13, 2016 at 08:38 PM · Great posts by Raphael.

I think it's possible to conclude that an instrument is great but it's not the right one for your approach to tone production or particular playing needs. Soloists being loaned stellar instruments by patrons may find it worthwhile to spend time adapting to that particular instrument. But for regular joes, the question is whether or not you want a violin that suits your particular approach now, or if you want a violin that's going to turn you into a different sort of player.

I've tended to favor easy-responding violins where bow speed rather than depth-into-the-string (slower bow, more pressure) is used to produce sound -- more air in the sound. But my current instrument favors the bow staying in solid contact, so I've had to reshape my sound production accordingly. Its precision of response also means that it is relentlessly unforgiving, which is not a quality that everyone wants.

In the sub-$5k range, you're basically figuring out what you're willing to compromise. Most of the modern sub-$20k instruments I've played seem to have been designed to favor a bright, clean, quickly responsive, resonant, relatively loud sound under the ear. What they trade off is a lack of rich overtones (which therefore in unimpressive projection even if they put out raw decibels) and nuance. In the sub-$5k range, those basic traits remain the same (if perhaps in lesser quantity), but you tend to trade off more nuance and beauty of tone. They are, to a Strad, what a Kia is to a Alfa Romeo.

August 13, 2016 at 08:53 PM · Please, please, please, OP, get your teacher involved in your instrument search if she/he isn't already.

It absolutely drives me insane when a student shows up with an instrument that they bought on their own without consulting me. In such cases, they inevitably spent too much and got too little.

August 13, 2016 at 10:00 PM · I am going to my teacher tomortow. I just want some advice before going into my lesson

August 13, 2016 at 10:42 PM · I find that violins, in general, sound harsh and too loud under my ear. I think that you get a much better feel for how they sound to others by using an earplug in your left ear.

August 13, 2016 at 11:27 PM · I have always favored a violin I can hear within an orchestra no matter what else is going on.I have 2 violins that satisfy me that way and 2 that don't. Sometimes in chamber music other participants preferred milder sounding fiddles - that's why I have them.

I have probably played on 4 great fiddles(but not so much).2 Strads,one Andrea Guarneri and one Amati. The Amati was back in 1951 for comparison when I got one of my current American-made violins (American wood too) and I preferred my violin. The first Strad I played around 1963 had been owned by Olé Bull and it was incredible!!! Working vibrato up the A string it felt like it would soar to Heaven (I swear) - as though whatever I gave it would just bring out more overtones to enhance the sound. The 2nd Strad was being worked at at Ifshin Violins and I got to play on it and an Andrea Guarneri (that was being "offered" at $300,000). I was getting my two better violins out of the shop at the time and I was not that jealous to take my own home. That Strad was later sold to the SFSO for $2M.

Another impressive violin a played on (owned my the other violinist in a quartet session) was one he had bought in China from the Chinese maker in China for $1,500. I swear, when I played it I thought it had a vintage like one of those in the previous paragraph.

Price ain't everything.

August 14, 2016 at 01:07 AM · I'm guessing that the Strad and Andrea Guarneri that you tried at Ifshin's were the same ones that I did. I did not much like the Andrea Guarneri, but I loved the Strad. I don't think any of my friends liked it, though, and Jay Ifshin noted that it didn't suit players with a heavier bow hand / more aggressive approach. But for me it was a nearly ideal violin. It required sound to be produced with more bow and more speed; it did not like pressure. A great example of the specificity of approach that's sometimes needed for top-end instruments.

August 14, 2016 at 01:07 AM · David, what has your teacher told you to look for in a violin? Has she told you what specific traits to look for? What to use when testing instruments? Offered to come with you to shops?

August 14, 2016 at 03:52 AM · No... But I told her that I was going to a shop and that I will bring violins to her, so... Im not sure. She did offer to come with me to porters last year

August 14, 2016 at 04:14 AM · What does she specifically feel are the aspects of your current instrument that are holding you back?

August 14, 2016 at 11:52 AM · To Andrew's point re hearing yourself in orchestra, me too. And as I noted earlier, it's possible for one violin in a test to be found to project better at a distance than another and yet for the other to be easier to hear oneself with in orchestra. So the under-the-ear aspect is nothing to be discounted. I want it all - quality and quantity from near and far!

In orchestra I find that there is a certain high range that often comes about for E string passages in first violin parts that is crucial: from about the G that is an octave above the 1st position G to about the C or so above that. For some reason those notes on some fiddles (that do fine in a solo context) seem to disappear - kind of like dropping a clear drinking glass into a tub of water. That's often when the firsts are especially exposed in an expressive passage and if you can't hear yourself...

Then for solo playing, it's important for the D above that on (the 2nd D on the E string) to be strong from both near and far. Some otherwise fine fiddles will falter there, and others will blast.

August 14, 2016 at 12:57 PM · Lydia, she said that my violin sounds dead and my fingered harmonics don't work. I've tried the same passage on my teachers violin, and it worked just fine (multiple times). As soon as I change back to my violin, it squeaks. But my new violins, it produces a beautiful sound in the same passage.

August 14, 2016 at 01:29 PM · Dead strings will produce bad fingered harmonics. When my students cannot play false harmonics and even I have trouble producing them on the student's violin, the first question I ask is, "how old are your strings?"

Did you try replacing your strings before deciding you needed a new violin?

August 14, 2016 at 01:48 PM · I'd also add "out of adjustment" (in need of soundpost, bridge, etc. being placed properly) will impact harmonics.

August 14, 2016 at 02:03 PM · Oh lol. I didn't know that. MAYBE that is the reason! I've had my evah pirazzi strings for like a year now... I should change them. Lydia, am I allowed to do that on a rental? Isn't it just better getting a new violin. Idk, I'll ask my teacher today and see what she says.

August 14, 2016 at 02:12 PM · Your rental came with Evah Pirazzi strings?????

Pretty pricey, and not very long-lasting strings for a rental.

August 14, 2016 at 03:19 PM · Holy cow. Yes, you should and are expected to change the strings on a rental on a regular basis. Your rental contract may even stipulate that you are responsible for doing so as part of your expected maintenance of the instrument. As far as I know, Potter's will also do maintenance adjustments on rentals, i.e., ensure that your soundpost is in the right place, etc. (If you buy strings from a local violin shop, chances are that they also will do a minor maintenance adjustment for free.)

No, it is certainly better not to just go get a new violin. You're going to need to regularly change strings on that violin, too, and if I were your parents, I would be grounding you through the duration of high school if I discovered you'd talked me into spending $6500 on a new violin when what you actually needed was $100 worth of strings.

You practice two hours a day, plus play rehearsals and whatnot? It's unlikely that a set of Evah Pirazzis will last you more than 3 months, in terms of sounding good. Your parents should be budgeting for 4 sets of string changes each year.

August 14, 2016 at 03:24 PM · Potter's usually sends out rentals with Dominants or Tonicas, based on my experience with their rental department (I've helped friends rent instruments there). My guess is that the previous customer of the rental had recently put EPs on the violin, and so Potter's simply sent it out to the next customer without changing the strings. So chances are that they're even older than the year the OP has had the violin.

August 14, 2016 at 04:08 PM · Spot on, change your strings, then reevaluate your rental before you go ahead with buying a new violin.

August 14, 2016 at 07:12 PM · Jaw. Floor.

I really don't know what else to say.

$100 for a set of strings FOR SURE, about $700 - $800 for a quality carbon fiber bow, and you're probably going to be amazed at how much your violin has improved.

Did your teacher not inquire about the age of your strings?

August 14, 2016 at 07:45 PM · No. EVERYBODY!! Haha no of course my rental didn't come with ep strings. I bought the ep golds last year and changed it

August 14, 2016 at 08:18 PM · Sorry, I had no way of knowing that, since the best clue I had was when you asked whether it was OK to change strings on a rental instrument. Looks like you had already made up your own mind on that, about a year ago! LOL

August 14, 2016 at 09:01 PM · I have found EPs to be tricky strings. Good for some and not for others - kind of like single-malt Scotch whiskeys. It's one of the more expensive lessons to be learned.

Be glad you're not a cellist, whose strings cost 3x more.

I've got a re-coiled set of EP Gold VIOLA strings in my case with only about 2 weeks use on them. But the EP gold violin strings are working on all my fiddles with PI platinum E strings.

August 14, 2016 at 09:04 PM · David Kang, has your teacher ever instructed you in the basics of violin maintenance? How to tell when you need new strings, how to tell when the bridge is out of place, etc.?

But yes. New strings. The whole instrument should wake up again.

August 14, 2016 at 09:27 PM · ...I.......

...is that for real, you have never changed the strings?

...And your teacher never questioned the age of your strings when the sound of your instrument went bad?

I'm sorry, but you don't need a new violin, you need to get back to basics first. ...and maybe consider finding a new teacher too.

August 15, 2016 at 06:29 AM · Pure, the sound of a fine violin is very pure. The sound should transfer far away not only because it is loud, but also it is pure. So it gets a penetration. The way that I figure out a fine violin is I mean to try the overtone, if the overtone is pure without any dirt, then it is a fine violin. Just to share my way^_^

August 15, 2016 at 12:04 PM · Is there a way of testing if a violin is pure??

August 15, 2016 at 12:11 PM · Combustion analysis comes to mind.

August 15, 2016 at 01:50 PM · David. Stop. Put your violin search on hold, change the strings on your current violin, buy or borrow a decent carbon fiber bow, and come back to us in three months. You are asking questions that make no sense and/or are irrelevant to your current situation. You are in no way ready to be shopping for a violin right now.

I like you and I think your intentions are good, but it's getting very frustrating to see you ignoring so much good advice from so many experienced people who have taken so much time to type out their thoughts for you on this forum.

August 15, 2016 at 03:36 PM · In addition to what Mary Ellen Goree has said, I would add that I continue to be concerned about your teacher.

I noted a bunch of "red flags" previously when you were asking questions about repertoire -- what seems to be a lack of a rigorous technical foundation, the extremely questionable choice to only teach orchestra music, the utterly bizarre "yes you can do Tchaikovsky", and so forth.

Now it appears that your teacher is doing essentially everything to do with equipment, questionably -- indeed, on the "questionable" spectrum, possibly leaving the land of the incorrect for the territory of crazy.

If a student's violin isn't sounding good, especially if it was previously fine, asking, "When did you last change the strings?" should be the starting point, followed by investigating whether or not it needs an adjustment.

For a student seeking an upgrade, an acceptable bow is very clearly the first place to start. If a violin upgrade seems necessary, the teacher should be offering thoughtful consideration as to what the priorities are before shopping begins. The teacher should also be instructing the student on how to test for the desired qualities. The teacher should set realistic expectations for what is achievable within the given price range, including what trade-offs the student might need to make.

My guess is that David Kang's parents are rather affluent, but they're stingy in odd ways. As a parent, you don't allow a kid to come up with a demand for a $5,000 violin out of nowhere, and then shrug your shoulders when he looks out-of-budget at ones that are $6,500, unless an unexpected $6500 expense just isn't that big of a deal to your bank account. Yet they aren't willing to spend $600 on a bow, and apparently don't spend on the most fundamental item, strings. This problem with spending priorities is something that a teacher should be addressing, and it's another red flag that the teacher isn't doing so.

David, I'd ask around in your youth symphony. Who do the players in the top chairs study with? Before you go looking for either a new violin or new bow, I'd seriously consider looking for a new teacher.

August 15, 2016 at 03:42 PM · One more thing: David, if your parents can shrug at the $6,500, have your teacher propose a budget for both violin and bow that would actually cover your full needs through high school, college, and possibly beyond. It just occurred to me that your parents might be able to realistically afford a fine contemporary violin and bow (say $15k+ combined budget), especially if they budgeted and saved for it, rather than being blindsided by a sudden demand.

Your parents should talk to parents of other kids in your youth symphony, to find out what they're playing. If they're anything like the kids in the NoVa suburbs of DC, fine contemporary instruments (Tadioli seems popular here) are commonplace, and the better students may be playing exceptionally fine antiques. If your parents are like a lot of competitively-oriented Asian parents, they might want you to have a violin in the same class as what your peers are playing, if they're able to afford it.

Also, the investment value of a fine violin is going to be much higher; in the $5k-ish price range you're looking at, you basically aren't going to get any appreciation and may have trouble reselling the violin later on. Your parents need to do some research before they make a decision on budget and priorities.

August 15, 2016 at 04:16 PM · 100% agree with Lydia's comments about David's teacher.

Editing to add, that is, if we are indeed getting a fair picture of what David's teacher is actually saying to him. I know from personal experience that what I tell students and what they hear are not necessarily one and the same.

August 15, 2016 at 05:04 PM ·

This could very easily be a "he said, she said" situation.

David, is this your YouTube channel? https://www.youtube.com/user/djeikhan

August 15, 2016 at 05:18 PM · In all fairness to the teacher, she might be a great violin teacher, and a technology klutz, just saying, being a good player/teacher does not make you an expert on instruments, set up and maintenance, at least not necessarily.

August 15, 2016 at 05:23 PM · Checked out your videos, David from the link above, considering you were in third grade I'd say you are very talented and have a great potential to grow as a player. Best wishes in your quest

https://www.youtube.com/user/djeikhan

August 15, 2016 at 05:33 PM · However it is incredible that his teacher did not ask him about the strings for so long, technology klutz or not. Especially EP? S/he has been listening to his playing every week!

August 15, 2016 at 06:30 PM · You don't have to be a technology geek to know that violin strings go false and need to be changed regularly. If it is true that the teacher never checked into that, then that is a red flag. But all we have to go on is what David tells us he was told, not necessarily everything that was actually said.

August 15, 2016 at 10:10 PM · The subject of bows came up earlier. Since you’ve had the EP strings “for like a year now,” what about the hairs on your bow? Is it possible that they’ve been on just as long?

While $700-$800 for a good CF bow is far less of a bite than $6,500 for a new instrument, a bow re-hair job, if needed, costs still less -- quite a bit less -- than such a bow. I have four bows I use in rotation, a week at a time. At this rate, 6 months is about as long as I’m willing to play on each one before a re-hair -- locally about $50 per bow. Hairs, like strings, begin to lose traction over time and will deliver substandard sound once they get past their prime.

August 15, 2016 at 10:28 PM · Local bow rehairs are in the low $40 range. I send my good bow away and pay much more for that one, but for a bow under $1000, I'd go local. I can give you a list of who I recommend for bow rehairs, David.

August 15, 2016 at 11:49 PM · My teacher said that the price of 6500 is ridiculous. She said take my time with violins. Im sorry, I will try new strings and see if it improves. And yes, that's my dads channel and I'm on it

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